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For a bit more than a hundred years, churchmeisters have been telling people that they should "believe for" things. Your family needs a new car? Start "believing for" it. Want a million dollars? "Believe for" that. Usually they don't talk about 72 virgins in the same phrase, but perhaps we should wonder.
But the point of all exercise, is that God has desires of His own, and His desires are far more important, than any of ours. Hebrews 11 is not a chapter about believing God "for" things. "For" is an inappropriate preposition in this context. Hebrews 11 properly deals with believing God about the present world, understanding His preferences concerning the things that we see.
Yes, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (verse 1). But the rest of the chapter repeatedly and forcefully clarifies that the "things hoped for" are not things of this world, and the "things not seen" are spiritual things more real than any physical thing we desire here. Thus, it is by faith that we understand that the world we see was made by (or, "through," or "from") God's words, so that God's invisible Word is the reality behind what we see. Compare verse 3 with Col. 1:16-17 and John 1:1-3. For the same reason, it is impossible to please God without faith -- if we are so captivated by our own needs and by what we see around us that we can't see God as the reality behind it, we can't believe God (who tells us that He, not what we see, is real) or believe that He rewards us in a reality we can't yet see. Verse 6. And as verse 2 says, it is by faith, faith that God and His unseen reward are more real than what we see, that the ancients obtained approval.
The rest of the chapter discusses how a list of ancients who obtained approval by faith showed that faith to the world. Abel gave a pleasing sacrifice. Noah, though he had never seen rain, believed God's warning about a flood and built an ark. Abraham left his own country in obedience to God, then wandered in the land of promise as a stranger (as did Isaac and Jacob), "because he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God," (Heb. 11:10), another reference to the unseen reward. Likewise, in verse 16, it is said he was desiring "a better country, that is, a heavenly one." Sarah believed God's word to her about having a child when she was past childbearing age. Abraham then obediently offered God that son, believing that God could raise him from the dead, thus demonstrating his belief that God's word is more real than anything we see -- even death. Likewise, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and his parents, Rahab and those listed in verses 32 through the first part of verse 35, accomplished great things because something they did declared to the world their belief that God was more real than the things they could see and the he would reward them. This point is summarized again in the discussion about Moses in verses 26 and 27, when it says that he considered the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. "By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king, for he endured, as seeing him who is unseen."
On the other hand, those mentioned in the last half of verse 35 through verse 37 are also commended for their faith ("of whom the world was not worthy"), even though they "believed the Lord for" persecution, poverty, exile, imprisonment and martyrdom. God and His reward are real, in a way that my bank account, my worldly goods and even my body aren't.
This brings us to a major conclusion. Verses 5 and 6 present Enoch as an example of an ancient who gained approval through faith. What was special about Enoch? The most obvious answer is that God took him directly without death -- "Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him." Genesis 5:24. However, Hebrews 11:5 doesn't focus on the miracle, it focuses on how he "walked with God." (Recall that walking is what God wanted to do with Adam and Eve. Genesis 3:8.) What does it say about Enoch's walk with God? Only that "before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God." Hebrews 11:5 (KJV). Note that this language is ambiguous, having three possible interpretations, either: 1) before Enoch's translation, God gave testimony that Enoch pleased Him (this is the option favored by the modern translations); or 2) before Enoch's translation, Enoch himself testified to others that "I please God;" or 3) before Enoch's translation, other people spoke of him as one who pleased God. This same ambiguity is found in the Greek text. Enoch is the subject, God is the dative object without a preposition (leaving open the question whether it's an indirect object or an instrumental dative). The verb is a single compound verb consisting of a perfect passive ("had been borne witness," with no answer to the question "by whom?") followed by a perfect infinitive ("to have pleased") followed by "God" in the dative.
It has become plain to us that both interpretation #1 and interpretation #2 are simultaneously true. In their walk together, God told Enoch that he pleased Him, and Enoch demonstrated his faith by telling others that he pleased God. This was just the opposite of what Enoch's acquaintances expected and wanted to hear. Since Adam and Eve hid from God on the day of their first sin, men had expected to hear that God was their enemy and had used God's perceived hostility to justify evil deeds. Compare, Genesis 3:8 ff., with Colossians 1:21 (hostile in their own minds). Enoch's testimony that he pleased God reproved this attitude -- and God demonstrated that Enoch's faith was correct by translating him.
"So what?" It is suggested that the satanic attack of today is attempt to pervert the entirety of the above. Many human theorists are willing to ignore that which God said concerning Enoch, and Himself, and all of us. Books are written and promoted in churches, which claim that human beings are all inherently holy and deserving of heaven, which ask "Why do bad things happen nonetheless"??!?? It's not nonetheless. Bad things happen because this is what God has said shall occur.
And yet a more specific evidence of rampant unbelief in churches which brand themselves with Christ's name: There has been more than one hundred years now, of encouragement of children to believe in Santa Claus. In parents, pastors, and other leaders, this cannot remain without a profound disregard for the purity and the truth of the belief of those children. And in this same period, churches by the thousands have adopted the "Claus" as the primary behavioral description of God. So many today, cannot accept that God does anything unpleasant. I do not think any of this is coincidence. It's easy for people to accept a Claus-like god as savior...when they accepted it once before!!! The miracle is that in many, before the second disappointment and disillusionment take firm hold, God places Himself in minds, and many directions change for the better.
The truth is that God is true to the description He has given, in His quotations of Himself speaking in the Holy Scriptures: He is pleased sometimes, and displeased sometimes; and He is always pleased by direct loving obedience, person to Person. Probably the best way to learn what He would have you do now and next, is to ask Him, and expect Him to deliver an answer you can recognize, and wait for it to come. If you would like more help in this, please contact us, or anyone He has caused you to trust in these matters!
Ian Johnson & Jonathan Brickman
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© 2011 Ian B. Johnson and Jonathan E. Brickman
God is spirit, an essay about the reality of the spirit.
A call to worship
Some Thoughts and Tracts
for the Gospel
Speaking in Unknown Tongues
and Related Issues
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